Why did you decide to intern with Get in2 China?
Anastasia: I came to China’s capital city, Beijing, in 2009, after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in international communications. I knew little of the country that was to be my destination, I did not speak Chinese, and I had no experience working or interacting in any other way with Chinese people. But fortune favors the brave, and the decision was a crucial one for my future career.
Fortunately for me, an understanding of Mandarin Chinese was not needed and, as I learned later, a large number of internships in China actually do not require you to know this seemingly incomprehensible language. However, language is only a tiny obstacle towards fully enjoying the world’s fastest growing country.
Did you experience culture shock during your time in China? What tips would you give future interns?
Anastasia: There are only a few foreigners who are fortunate enough to never experience culture shock in China. Upon arrival, you are met with a whole bunch of feelings at once: awe, excitement, fear, curiosity, confusion and, at times, even disgust. As much as you have heard of Asian culture being so different from European, you only get to know the extent of the difference once you are faced with it. For that reason China is the best place to experience real Asian culture: food, language, traditions and customs, attitudes, etc. Still, however, the Middle Kingdom requires you to be tough and optimistic: only through frustration, excitement and adjustment can you fully enjoy China. Not everyone can handle it.
As I arrived for a long-term period (my internship was 6 months), I went through all of the stages of what psychologists call ‘culture shock’. I was lucky though, my adjustment and adaption went relatively smoothly, as Get in2 China Group helped me all along the way. Thanks to them, I did not have to worry about searching for my first accommodations, a process that can be rather hectic for foreigners. As I soon found out, bargaining here extends far beyond the reach of markets, and even applies to some boutiques and real estate agencies! And if you are not used to fighting for a discount, then you pay much more for your apartment than it’s worth.
But the most important thing for those coming for their first working experience in China is to know all the intricacies of communicating with Chinese co-workers. The success of your internship largely depends on how well you can get along with your colleagues and managers.
What advice would you give future interns about interning in China?
Anastasia: For those considering an internship in China, it is highly recommended to have your first experience in an international or foreign company. It might be a local one, but preferably with some other foreigners working there already. The staff of Get in2 China Group coached me, I mostly knew what to expect, and was not greatly confused or discouraged. Of course, the ‘cold welcome’ on the first day was colder than I expected. I felt like an intruder - the Chinese staff talked all the time in Chinese, and I kept thinking that they were talking about me.
However, after some time, I used one of the tips I was given: be the first to break the ice. I addressed one of the Chinese ladies nearby to help me with setting up an account on my computer, and she was glad to be of assistance. Ten minutes later, we found ourselves talking about the usual stuff Chinese people would ask you every other day if you spoke Chinese (i.e. name, country, how do you like it in China, what do you think of the Chinese food etc. Be ready for these questions coming on a frequent basis. Once you break the ice with your Chinese coworkers, they with will want to know all about you. But do not worry - there is nothing in the back of their minds, just pure curiosity.
It is important to keep in mind that when working with Chinese people, they rarely speak loudly and openly. All their issues they prefer to discuss between themselves in hushed voices, and it does not surprise me anymore to see my Chinese colleagues whispering to each other. It might make you feel uncomfortable at first, but consider it as a cultural difference. Many businesses in China actually run in a subdued manner with little being announced. In addition, Chinese offices, in most cases, stick to fixed schedule, so you can arrange your plans and be sure that you will live up to them.
An internship in China is not just a way to test yourself and your ability to survive in a different culture. First and foremost, it is a vast opportunity to stand out from the herd. China has been continuously growing in significance in global affairs, and those who know how to handle China better have a leg up on the competition. If you are considering an internship in China, here are some tips to consider:
- Read as much as you can find on China, but do not believe everything you read. Some people coming to China simply can’t cope with the culture shock, and pour it out online. Information on China is useful when you know how to use information properly.
- You can consider applying for an internship in China via an internship agency if you have never been to China before. Though it comes at some expense, it certainly has its benefits, as was the case with me.
- Try to make as much of your time in China as possible. No matter how difficult the Chinese language might be, at least try to learn its basics. You may notice that once you have some progress in it, you will find it a lot easier and more enjoyable to study. And the locals like you more when they hear that you can pronounce their language.
- Before you go to China, check with the agency (if you choose to apply with it) what type of visa you should apply for, if the accommodations are available, if the company can provide you a letter of recommendation upon the completion of you internship, and what extra services are included in the package if you book an internship program with the agency.